Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? Why Live Music Is Becoming Almost Too Pricey to Watch

why are concert tickets so expensive

How much would you expect to shell out for a floor seat at a top-tier artists’ show in Australia?

If you wanted to see Blink-182 play a bunch of reunion shows in Australia in 2024, you can do so at the Qudos Bank Arena for the low, low price of $254. If you want to get in early and get the best standing position, you’ll have to cough up $432. To stand at the back of Rod Laver Arena will set you back $350.

It’s an extreme example, and one that has faced significant backlash, but it’s indicative of where concert ticket prices are going and what we’re prepared to pay for them.

Big, once-in-a-lifetime acts like Blink-182 or Taylor Swift might be able to get away with charging you a month’s rent — or like, two days’ rent in Bondi — but, as with everything else, live music prices are on the rise and they’re not likely to come down.

The entire creative industry has come through one hell of a battle following the COVID lockdowns and are now having to endure the same cost of living and inflation increases as the rest of us while they struggle to recoup losses over the past few years.

One venue owner in Fitzroy told The Sydney Morning Herald that in order to make the same income as they were in 2019, they would have to put the price of each drink up by $2.

“We cannot do that, the customer will not accept that, but the problem is the cost of everything has gone up … so we’re finding it really difficult,” they said.

That’s not to say that huge international acts are doing it tough, but that the industry as a whole is having to battle these inflation pressures. Touring is an expensive thing to do, made more so by rising energy costs, fuel costs, and staffing costs. All of that has to come from somewhere.

In another piece, Jessie Parker, general manager of Laneway Festival, told the SMH that the $20 ticket increase on the 2020 event wouldn’t even cover the increased costs of running a post-COVID music event.

“If we were to try and come close to covering this just through ticketing, we’d be looking at a number that is roughly 20% higher than this year’s ticket price,” she said.

The monopoly of industry players like Ticketmaster, owned by Live Nation Entertainment, cannot be discounted either when discussing ticket price increases. The most recent, headline-grabbing example of this is the ongoing investigation into that company by the US Justice Department.

The DOJ opened an investigation into Live Nation sales for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour became a logistical nightmare for fans, with tens of thousands of people locked out after the website crashed. Their investigation was already in the preliminary stages prior to that event over anti-trust and anti-competitiveness concerns.

Live Nation controls roughly 70% of the ticketing market in the US. Data suggests that 78% of the price of a ticket comes down to fees and admin charges and that Ticketmaster holds back as much as 90% of the tickets for the secondary market. These end up going to credit card companies as customer bonuses, promoters, or pre-sale fan clubs of an artist where prices are usually higher. There is also the issue of professional ticket scalpers buying up swaths of tickets using bots and selling them on for a major premium.

Prior to COVID, ticket prices were already on the rise, thanks to the changing nature of the creative economy. A 2019 Live Performance Australia survey found that the average live performance ticket cost almost $100, a 30% increase from 2008.

This is a historical trend with concert tickets that defies the rate of inflation. Paste magazine also charted an upward trend where average concert tickets in the US have risen from US$15.13 in 1988 to $74.25 in 2015. A similar trend was identified by the Wall Street Journal, which found that from 2009 to 2019, concert ticket prices rose by an average of US$94.83.

One of the key drivers, they said, is the demands the internet has put on musicians. According to one Princeton economist, in the 1980s, live performances made up just 30% of a musician’s income. In 2019, that had risen to 75%.

This is why you now see things like ‘VIP’ ticket packages, and tiered reserve ticket seating, with corresponding price adjustments. Those who can pay, will, and those who can’t, will sit at the back or stream the concert at home at a later date. Music streaming, which has now become how 80% of music is consumed, is no longer about making money but about artist exposure, with the end result being bums on overpriced seats.

There’s a range economic factors at play here, but the hard reality is that the consumer is being squeezed on the live music front to make up for revenue lost in other areas of the music industry.

Of course, it would be wrong to suggest that there are no cheap or free gigs anymore as there are hundreds of gigs taking place every weekend in the country’s capital cities. That being said, this has been limited, at least in Sydney, by the incessant attack on nightlife pursued by successive governments over the past decade or so. Even as the city clumsily attempts to put that into reverse, many feel the scene is already too far gone.

If you are looking to scoop yourself some cheap tickets, jumping on a trustworthy resale platform and picking up a last-minute deal has been proven to be the most effective way of saving money. It’s something of a gamble, however, as the ticket you want may not become available, particularly if it’s a very in-demand show. Still, it’s probably your only option to see Blink-182 if you didn’t manage to remortgage your home in time to buy tickets in the initial sale.

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